Seares: Cancelling subscriptions: spiteful, petty way for politicos to hit back

Medias Public

IF US President Trump’s administration will push through his threat to end subscriptions to The Washington Post and the New York Times held by federal agencies, most likely no one will go to court to stop it.

Press Secretary Stephanie Grisham announced Tuesday (Oct. 22) the White House would order the agencies not to renew subscriptions to the papers when they expire. She would be heeding the signal from her boss who said in an earlier interview with Fox News’ Sean Hannity, “We don’t even want [the Times] in the White House anymore... We’re going to probably terminate that and the Washington Post. They’re fake.”

ACT OF SPITE. It will be mostly an act of spite, a reprisal against two newspapers whose coverage does not flatter the president. It will also be an act of discrimination against the publications and, in a way, an act of extortion, something like, “Write goods things about us or we cancel subscription.” Yet the papers most likely won’t go to court over it.

Though the action is petty and speaks volumes about the chief executive’s intolerance of adverse news, terminating subscriptions has been practiced by a number of public officials, in the US and even in this country.

President Kennedy cancelled the New York Herald Tribune whose editorials “about impropriety in his administration and underplaying similar behavior in the Eisenhower administration.” A Cebu City mayor did not only cancel subscription of department heads to a newspaper; he spread the word that he wouldn’t like to see any copy of it in City Hall offices.

DAMAGE TO THE PAPER. How much harm could that form of “hit-back” measure inflict on the newspaper? Depends on the total amount the subscriptions would bring and the capacity of the paper to absorb the loss. (It was not disclosed if the cancellation would cover both print and digital services of Times and Post.)

That may still be minimal compared to loss of advertising revenue caused by a president’s, or a mayor’s, pressure on big media buyers, which a Filipino president once waged against a Manila-based daily and a Cebu City mayor against the then leading paper in the ‘80s and early ‘90s, now defunct Republic News.

Shuttering the US White House or Cebu City Hall on paper subscriptions wouldn’t cause as much impact, financial or otherwise, on newspapers anymore.

Papers such as the Times or the Post have other sources of income, digital subscriptions and subsidy from some billionaire who advocates for a free press. The new assault on Times will even boost the paper’s campaign (“Democracy Dies in Darkness”) and increase the number of subscriptions from sources other than the US federal government. Local papers have not gotten any substantial income from government office subscriptions; dailies like Superbalita Cebu depend on private consumers.

COST OF VENGEFULNESS. If Trump means he won’t read, or will deny his bureaucrats and functionaries office access to the Times and the Post, how will they get the facts on which to base their decision? They can’t rely solely on Fox News and other publications that see nothing wrong in whatever Trump does or says.

Same thing with a “boycott” on any local newspaper. During the height of one mayor’s rage against SunStar, when he didn’t want to see a copy of the paper being read by City Hall employees, he was caught in a photo at a public function with a SunStar tucked under his left arm. Trump, they say, would run out of topics to berate about on Twitter if he’d stop reading the Times and the Post.

“ANGRY LITTLE MAN.” More than the harm on capacity to respond to adverse information against public officials and the basic need to know what is required for an informed governance, is the black mark on the administration’s forehead for everyone to see.

Trump or any other president – or any governor mayor -- anywhere who can’t tolerate unflattering news or critical opinion and strikes back by cancelling subscription comes out as starkly petty and spiteful as can be.

A little man, an Oct. 24 New Yorker article calls him, headlining his act thus: “Angry Little Man Cancels Newspaper Subscriptions.”


REDACTED OR BLANK ‘PROTEST’ PAGES. Last Monday (Oct.21), major newspapers in Australia published redacted front pages in a “coordinated campaign to highlight government secrecy” purportedly in the name of national security.

Aussie media organizations, Associated Press (AP) reported, complain that press freedom has been eroded by more than 70 counter-terrorism and security laws that Parliament has passed since the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks on the United States.

The newspaper front pages ask, “When the government keeps the truth from you, what are they covering?”

The redacted pages are a less dramatic way of protesting against censorship. Newspapers after all have not been totally gagged.

Presenting blank space, as Philippine Daily Inquirer columnist Richard Heydarian did last July 2 (when he supposedly highlighted President Duterte’s foreign policy), is more radical though inaccurate and a bit archaic. The last time Cebu’s The Freeman did it, on its space for editorial, was in 1972.


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